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Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia)

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Witch: The Moondark Saga, Books 7-9
Witch: The Moondark Saga, Books 7-9
Prix : CDN$ 2.99

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘My goal is to destroy the children of prophecy, to make the names Gan and Sylah signify shame and disgrace.’, Feb. 15 2015
In Witch, the third trilogy of the Moondark Saga, Gan Moondark’s kingdom, the Three Territories is under threat from all sides. The Rose Priestess Sylah, whose quest for ancient knowledge has been successful, is looking to Gan Moondark for help. Her discovery of ancient knowledge has shattered the unity of the Church, and has seen her branded as a witch. But in addition to external threats, Gan faces enemies from within the Three Territories. Can Gan get the help he needs from Tate, Conway and the other twentieth century survivors? In the meantime, Leclerc’s inventions could assist, but the people are made nervous by what they perceive to be magic.

‘Visions and prophecies. They seem to always stand in need of interpretation.’

Tate and Conway journey back to the Enemy Mountains, in search of the ammunition and weapons stored there. It’s a race against both time and the Moonpriest whose objective is to destroy Gan and Sylah. In the meantime, there are those who seek to undermine Gan and his friends through misrepresentation and deceit. If they can turn friend against friend, then the Three Territories will be destroyed from within.

‘Deceit was an insidious infection that poisoned friendship.’

It’s winter. Gan and the Three Territories are preparing for war against many enemies. Can he prevail?

‘Tomorrow is different. Another world to build, another world to create, another world to discover.’

I loved this series. Over the nine books that make up the three Moondark trilogies, I became familiar with the world that Don McQuinn has created, the peoples who inhabit it and the challenges they face. This is a series that I know I will reread: the current ending enables me to imagine a continuation of the saga. I’m grateful for that.

Note: I was offered, and accepted, a copy of this trilogy for review purposes. I am so glad that I did.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Ms Cellophane
Ms Cellophane
Prix : CDN$ 2.48

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘I am Ms Cellophane. I have no job and no spouse or children and I am overweight.', Feb. 12 2015
This review is from: Ms Cellophane (Kindle Edition)
' This makes me a dumpy middle aged spinster. Cellophane.’

Liz Smith, middle-aged spinster, rendered redundant, and living a life she considers deadly dull. Is it any wonder that Liz Smith thinks that she is boring? Ah, but will Liz remain boring? Her life is about to change. The changes start with a simple (hah) redecorating project, but where (and how) will it end?

‘Life was standing still, waiting for Liz to fall into its trap.’

Liz may be enduring her very own form of existential crisis, but she is not alone. Just ask her friends, and the ants, especially the ants. In Liz’s world, nothing is as it seems – especially when it involves a mirror.

I am especially fond of the mirror. Until I looked into it, I couldn’t recognise anyone in the story. Or perhaps I just chose not to. After all, Canberra is full of middle-aged people, isn’t it?

I read this novel when it was first released as ‘Life through Cellophane’ in 2009. I reread it after it was reissued in digital form, and found that I enjoyed it even more. The first time around I focussed on the hectic drama of Liz’s life, a blend of inward-focussed musing and curious external events. This time around I looked more at the journey Liz was taking, at how she was looking for a meaning not defined by relationship and employment status. Or ants. Who might Liz become?

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Harry's Last Stand: How the world my generation built is falling down, and what we can do to save it
Harry's Last Stand: How the world my generation built is falling down, and what we can do to save it
Prix : CDN$ 9.43

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Though I am not an historian, I am history.’, Feb. 10 2015
Harry Smith, born in 1923 and celebrating his 92nd birthday this month (February 2015), has quite a lot to say about the UK and the modern world. There’s an urgency about Harry’s views, and reading about his life experiences it’s hard not to agree with much of what he has to say.
Harry Smith lived through the awful, grinding poverty of the Great Depression. His sister Marion died in 1926 as a consequence of tuberculosis because his family could not afford medical treatment.

‘In those days, there was no national health service; one either had the dosh to pay for you medicine or you did without.’

By joining the Royal Air Force in 1941, Harry finally obtained many of the things that many of us take for granted: food every day, decent clothing, a bed to sleep in. Harry did okay, despite having little formal education and ins spite of the British class system.

So what is Harry’s book about, and why is it worth reading?

Central to the book is the promise made by politicians after the war that ‘no one in this country would face that type of unemployment and helplessness again’. It was to be a more optimistic new world, one in which education would ensure equality of opportunity and healthcare would be universally available. Instead, Harry points to evidence that the rise in living costs and a decrease in government programs are diminishing opportunity and extinguishing hope. In Harry’s view, much of what government is doing is of benefit only to the rich. Who else can afford expensive schools and healthcare? Who else benefits from massive subsidies to business? Government austerity did not work during the Great Depression: why (and how) will it work now?

‘We have become hyper-vigilant about imaginary risks to our person and our society, but indifferent to the threats that austerity creates to our neighbourhoods, our schools, our hospitals and our friends.’

Harry Smith’s book is worth reading, whether you agree with his left-leaning views or not. The Great Depression is not an historical event for him: he experienced it directly. As Harry Smith moves between his own past experiences and his analysis of contemporary issues, it’s hard not to agree with some of his suggestions for improvement. Do we really want to see a return to an era in which a child can die in a developed country of a treatable disease because medical treatment is only afforded to those who can pay? Do we really believe that corporations are more important than people?

I recommend this book to anyone interested in reading a passionate and articulate view about learning from the lessons of the past. We need to take responsibility for our future.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Langue[dot]doc 1305
Langue[dot]doc 1305
by Gillian Polack
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 21.24
7 used & new from CDN$ 21.24

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Time for Botty to beam you down into the Middle Ages!’, Feb. 9 2015
This review is from: Langue[dot]doc 1305 (Paperback)
The plan: to send a team of Australian scientists, together with an historian, back to St-Guilhem-le-Désert in 1305. The scientists will take scientific measurements of the atmosphere, environment and ecology, and study the skies for nine months. They will live in a cave, and they will have no impact on the people or the history.

Dr Artemisia Wormwood is the historian. She’s a late inclusion to the team, and she’s and expert in Anglo-Norman and Norman hagiography, rather than medieval history. Still, Artemisia is willing to go for personal reasons.

So, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, the only thing that the scientists seem able to agree on is that their own work is important and should be given precedence. The importance of history hardly seems worth considering. And as for keeping away from the people in the local town - why should they?

The local townsfolk soon notice the people living ‘under the hill’ and can’t decide whether they are fairies or demons. Are they simply annoying, or actually dangerous? Time passes, individuals become frustrated, and things go wrong. How will it end? Especially as no-one seems to be taking Artemisia seriously. Artemisia is the only one who can communicate with the locals, and her contact with Guilhem, the local knight, leads to a new set of problems.

‘Why did they bother bringing an historian if they assumed that historian’s stupidity?’
The novel is a series of (usually) short anecdotes, usually from the perspective of Artemisia or Guilhem. These anecdotes demonstrate all too clearly some of the things that can go wrong when people are separated by 700 (or so) years. This, for me, is a novel about difference, about the perceptions that people bring to their experience and expectation of the world in which they live. Each group (the time travellers and the townsfolk) has their leaders, each group has its outsiders. The time travel provides an opportunity to explore some of those differences.

This is a novel to read slowly and reflect on: it is interesting and enjoyable. While few of the characters appealed to me (most were either too argumentative or egotistical, or too passive), the challenges thrown up by the situation had me thinking. And for that, I can almost accept a Timebot known as ‘Botty’.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Honeydew: Stories
Honeydew: Stories
Offered by Hachette Book Group Digital, Inc.
Prix : CDN$ 12.99

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘All the others were honeydew.’, Feb. 8 2015
This review is from: Honeydew: Stories (Kindle Edition)
When I requested a copy of this book of short stories, I had no idea what to expect. I’d not read any Edith Pearlman before. This collection of twenty short stories (each of them previously published in various journals) held my attention from the beginning of the first story to the end of the twentieth.

The longest of these stories is 22 pages, most are between 10 and 15 pages. And it’s a tribute to Ms Pearlman’s skill that she can construct a person, a group or family, a setting, a series of events, a lifetime in a way that is self-contained and satisfying to read. Words are not wasted. These stories are about relationships, about observing, about evaluating life choices. Some are unconventional love stories, others remind the reader that happiness can often be found along less conventional paths. Many (but not all) of these stories are set in a fictional Boston suburb inhabited by a multicultural cast of characters.

If you enjoy short stories about people, about possibilities and situations, then you may enjoy this collection. I did. I won’t identify a favourite story, because my view will probably change when I reread the book, but I particularly liked the character of Rennie in ‘Puck’ and in ‘Assisted Living’. Rennie has an antiques business called ‘Forget Me Not’ and while she observes much, Rennie is discreet, and does not offer advice. Each of these stories invites you through a significant event or moment into a life, and then to appreciate (at least part of) that life and to reflect on it. Consider ‘Hat Trick’, in which a recently widowed woman invites four 19 year old girls (including her daughter) to draw the names of their future husbands from a selection of names in a hat. And the result? Fifty years later, the mother is on her deathbed, and the daughter tells her what became of each of the girls: ‘You did a marvellous thing, .. we are all happy enough.’

Note: My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher Hachette Australia for an opportunity to read a copy of this book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Enemy in the East: Hitler's Secret Plans to Invade the Soviet Union
Enemy in the East: Hitler's Secret Plans to Invade the Soviet Union
by Rolf-Dieter Müller
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 21.00
30 used & new from CDN$ 21.00

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘On 22 June 1941, the German Wehrmacht and its allies began their assault on the USSR.’, Feb. 7 2015
Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, let to one of the most brutal campaigns of World War II. It is estimated that of the 70 million people who died during the war, more than 30 million died on the Eastern Front. In this book, Rolf-Dieter Müller explains that Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union in 1940 was based on earlier plans, some of which had been formed even before the Nazis came to power.

The early plans had assumed that Poland would be at least neutral, if not an ally, and that the campaigns would have been two pincer movements: from East Prussia via the Baltic states into Northern Russia, and from Romania and Slovakia into the Ukraine. Professor Müller explains how Hitler and the Nazis held Józef Piłsudski, who led Poland until 1935, in very high regard. They saw Poland as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, and tried to convince Poland to join the Anti-Comintern Pact together with Italy and Japan.

The key questions to be addressed, identified in the introduction to this book, are:
‘When did plans for a war against the USSR emerge and become part of the Third Reich’s military deliberations? What role was played by the relationship with Poland, the ‘anti-Russian trench’? Was Hitler’s turn against Poland in spring 1939 intended to create the basis for a subsequent war in the west or in the east?’

How close were Poland and Germany before May 1939? Professor Müller writes that Józef Lipski, the Polish Ambassador to Germany: ‘.. promised Hitler ‘a nice monument in Warsaw’ if he could find a solution to the ‘Jewish question’.’ Poland and Germany were discussing a joint effort to exile the Jews of Poland and Germany to Africa. In January 1939 Hitler tied to form a military alliance with Poland, but the relationship broke down over Danzig and the Polish Corridor. This pushed Poland towards the ‘ever-greater support offered by the Anglo-Saxon powers’ and set in train the German invasion in September. If agreement had been reached between Poland and Germany in 1939, the 1939 equivalent of Barbarossa could have started with the armies of both countries participating, and with the Baltic States not yet occupied by the Soviet Union.

‘Hitler was deeply convinced in 1939 that conquering the USSR would be a piece of cake and that it would make his Third Reich unassailable for all time. An Operation Barbarossa in 1939 probably would have led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the destruction of Russia.’

In this book, Professor Müller takes us behind the scenes of the Wehrmacht High Command. I think that anyone the history of the Eastern Front would be interested in reading this book.

Rolf-Dieter Müller is a professor of military history at Humboldt University in Berlin and serves as the Scientific Director of the German Armed Forces Military History Research Institute in Potsdam.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher I B Tauris for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Adam's Caverns (Adam's Chronicles Book 2)
Adam's Caverns (Adam's Chronicles Book 2)
Prix : CDN$ 4.10

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘You are a great genius, Adam, Feb. 7 2015
In this book, the second in the ‘Adam’s Chronicles’ series, the virtually immortal Adam’s interest in preserving the world after a global catastrophe is called into play. Adam and a small group of scientists have started to stockpile animal and human embryos, and plant seeds and spores so that the world can be repopulated if life is destroyed. They may have been thinking about a nuclear holocaust, but a direct strike by a significant chunk of meteor has the same impact. Everything has been stored in a secret cave system in New Mexico, and a small group of people shelter there for a period of years until it is safe to emerge.

‘You are a great genius, Adam. Genius is seeing the obvious for the first time from a different perspective.’

The people in the cavern are not the only survivors: another group found safety in Antarctica. Between them, these two groups of people will try to rebuild a world similar to the one destroyed. They have many obstacles to overcome: not all members of the cavern group share the same objectives. And rebuilding life on earth is going to take a very long time.

I had some reservations about the first novel in this series, but the possibilities raised by Adam’s immortality had me keen to keep reading. And while I’m not entirely comfortable with aspects of the second novel, I’m very keen to read what happens next. The scenario Mr Lapin has developed is plausible enough to hold my interest. There are no quick fixes in this new world, which makes Adam’s virtual immortality important if life is to be re-established. And, for various reasons (for which you’ll need to read the book) the path to human re-population will not be easy. And yes, I have the third book lined up to read shortly.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Kinder Than Solitude: A Novel: Written by Yiyun Li, 2015 Edition, Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks [Paperback]
Kinder Than Solitude: A Novel: Written by Yiyun Li, 2015 Edition, Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks [Paperback]
by Yiyun Li
Edition: Paperback
2 used & new from CDN$ 34.43

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ’The dead did not fade when they remained unacknowledged.’, Feb. 5 2015
This story, which moves between contemporary America and China around the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, involves the lives of four people: Moran, Ruyu, Boyang and Shaoai. When Shaoai is poisoned, quite possibly by one of the other three, their lives move in different directions and they become separated. Moran and Ruyu move to the United States, while Boyang remains in China. Their lives and their capacity for connecting to others is blighted by what happened the day Shaoai was poisoned.

‘Places do not die or vanish, yet one can obliterate their existence, just as one can a lover from an ill-fated affair.’

As we follow the lives of Moran, Ruyu, and Boyang, wondering about what really happened, and about Shaoai’s lingering amongst the living for 20 years after being poisoned, it’s difficult not to think that each of the four have been dying as a consequence of the poisoning. And yet, while my overwhelming sense is of sadness and loss, there’s something beautiful in the way Yinyun Li tells this story. Moran, Ruyu, and Boyang each help others but cannot allow others to form attachments to them. Would their lives have been different if Shaoai had not been poisoned? Who poisoned Shaoai, and why?

There are many questions raised in this novel, and few clear-cut answers. For me, the actual events twenty years ago became less important than their continuing impact. This is a novel that has invited me to think about how lives are influenced and unfold. It is also a novel that I will want to reread at some stage.

‘One could easily trace a life lived in solitude.’

Note: my thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read this novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

They Found a Cave: Text Classics
They Found a Cave: Text Classics
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Hollow Tree was a fine mark on the landscape.’, Feb. 4 2015
Four children, Nigel, Cherry, Brickenden (Brick) and Anthony (Nippy) have been sent from England to live with their Aunt Jandie in rural Tasmania after war broke out in 1939. They make friends with Tas Pinner, whose mother (Ma Pinner) and step-father (Pa Pinner) work on Aunt Jandie’s property. For now, it’s the summer holidays, and while the children have chores to attend to around the farm, they have plenty of time to explore the bush with Tas.

But Aunt Jandie has to leave the farm for medical treatment - she hopes to be back in a week - and leaves the children in the care of Ma and Pa Pinner. Ma and Pa Pinner are simply awful people, and the five children make plans to leave the farm and set up home in the cave they found up in the mountain near the farm. Once in the cave, with supplies augmented by raids on the farm, the children are marvellously self-sufficient. They meet ‘Mad Dad’ Williams avoid recapture by Pa Pinner, and make some interesting discoveries. When Nigel makes a trip to town to try to collect mail, they uncover a plan by the Pinners to steal from Aunt Jandie and abandon the farm. Will the Pinners be foiled? Will Aunt Jandie return?

I first read this novel (and then saw the film) during the 1960s. I loved it. An adventure story for children set in Tasmania. A story in which resourceful children removed themselves from a difficult (and possibly dangerous) situation, took care of themselves (and Aunt Jandie’s goats) really appealed to me. Revisiting the novel 50 years later was fun. While most aspects of the story are timeless, the children’s discussion around the discovery of aboriginal human bones in a cave may strike some readers as culturally insensitive. Despite that, the novel is well worth reading (or rereading). It’s bonza, mate.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Prix : CDN$ 4.97

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘And love is a piano dropped from a fourth story window.’, Feb. 4 2015
Lawrence Fyre is the owner of Sargasso Books, in the Brighton Lanes (Brighton, UK). Marin Strang is a teacher of Spanish, an isolated woman existing courtesy of temporary teaching contracts. Marin was once a Jehovah’s Witness, but has been disfellowshipped, and is largely disconnected from her past. After a chance meeting in a café called Number 8, followed by Marin attending a literary event, Lawrence and Marin become attracted to each other. Shortly afterwards, they begin an intense relationship and Marin moves in with him. Can this relationship work? Can Marin make sense of her past, and be comfortable with it? Will Lawrence’s optimism continue?

This is one of those hauntingly beautiful stories about personal discovery and growth, relationships and trust that invites you to think about your own life and place in the world. About how relationships are stressed in many different ways, and about how we (as individuals) are subtly (and unsubtly) pressured to conform.

‘The past was already floating in the middle distance.’

I enjoyed reading this novel, especially the small twists and turns that made Marin (and to a lesser extent Lawrence) come alive. Life is an iterative rather than linear process, and each person brings elements of their past into the present. The book finished, but not my interest in the characters. I want to know what happens next. I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys well-written novels in which the characters enter your life and make you think about your own.

Note: I was offered, and accepted, a copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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